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A Good Reading Diagnostic Tool to Determine Reading Levels

by Erin Agnello, studioD

Running records, sometimes referred to as reading records, were developed by respected researcher Marie Clay to determine a child's reading level. Running records calculate the accurate reading of words and examine the type of errors a child makes when reading. They can also be used to determine a child's comprehension of the book. Running records give educators a complete picture of a child's reading competencies and help guide teachers' instruction.


To perform a running record, select a book you feel the child can successfully read. As the child reads, act as a neutral observer and use a coding system to record exactly what the child says. This consists of check marks for accurate reading of works as well as a variety of other marks to note things such as inserting words, omitting words, reading words incorrectly, asking for help and fixing words that were initially read incorrectly.

Error Analysis

Maintain a tally of the mistakes the child makes while reading. Upon completion of the running record, each error is analyzed to determine what types of information a child is using or neglecting to use when tackling unfamiliar words. Children use a combination of meaning, structure and visual information when reading. A child is reading with meaning when the text makes sense. A child is using structure cues when her reading "sounds right" and follows the language's structure. The child processes visual information when she attends to the way letters and words look and uses that knowledge to solve a word.


Record self-corrections, which occur when a child reads a word incorrectly and then goes back and fixes the error. Like errors, self-corrections are analyzed to determine if the child is using meaning, structure and visual information when reading. Both the initial error and the correction are analyzed. A child who demonstrates consistent self-correcting is monitoring his reading to ensure that words look right, sound right and makes sense.


Upon the completion of a running record, find the total number of errors the child made. Subtract the number of errors from the total words read. Divide this number by the number of words read and multiply the result by 100 to achieve a percentage. An accuracy of less than 90 percent indicates the book was too difficult, while an accuracy of more than 94 percent indicates the book was too easy. A child reads a "just right" book with 90 to 94 percent accuracy. To calculate the child's self-correction rate, add the number of errors and self-corrections and divide this number by the total self-corrections. This results in a ratio, such as 1-to-6, which means that for every six errors made, the child corrected one. A self-correction rate of 1-to-5 or less is ideal. You can calculate accuracy and self-correction rates manually or by using a running-record calculator.


An additional component of running records is assessing the child's comprehension of the story. Decoding words alone does not indicate that a child has understood the text. You can assess comprehension by asking the child to recall parts of the story and make inferences and personal connections to the story's events, characters or underlying message. Commercial running-record kits typically include questions for test administrators to use.

About the Author

Erin Agnello began writing in 2011. She has been teaching since 2001 and presently works in the areas of special education and early literacy. She enjoys writing about parenting, environmental issues and education. Agnello holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University and a Bachelor of Education from Windsor University. Her work has appeared on sites including Modern Mom and The Bump.

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